The (Inter)cultural Missing Link in Conference Interpreting

  • Ana Leal-Lobato
Keywords: conference interpreters; conceptualizations of culture; intercultural mediation; scholarly literature; professional discourse


The second half of the twentieth century brought about increased international contacts between people from different origins, which led to changes in the translation studies landscape, impacting conference interpreters as well. Although interpreting scholars acknowledge that interpreters are both linguistic and intercultural mediators, at first glance, culture and intercultural mediation appear to be neglected in the domain of conference interpreting, unlike the domains of community and sign language interpreting.

In this paper, I conduct an analysis on how the established professional discourse and the scholarly literature have portrayed culture and intercultural mediation in conference interpreting. The analysis reveals various conceptualizations of culture and different stances regarding intercultural mediation. Amongst them, reductionist conceptualizations of culture seem to dominate; conceptualizations that have informed the conference interpreting pedagogy. However, this state of affairs contrasts sharply with the current culturally diverse interpreting landscape, what might have an impact on practice and professional identity.


Agar, Michael 1994: Language shock: understanding the culture of conversation. New York: Perennial.
Agar, Michael 2006: Culture: Can you Take it Anywhere? Invited Lecture Presented at the Gevirtz Graduate School of Education, University of California at Santa Barbara. In International Journal of Qualitative Methods 5(2), 1-16.
AIIC 1998: Interpreting explained [online]. (accessed 25 July 2017).
AIIC 2011: Related professions [online]. (accessed 17 October 2017).
AIIC 2012a: Conference interpreting [online]. (accessed 25 July 2017).
AIIC 2012b: Working languages [online]. (accessed 17 October 2017).
Al-Zahran, Aladdin 2007: The consecutive conference interpreter as intercultural mediator: a cognitive-pragmatic approach to the interpreter’s role (Doctoral dissertation). ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global database. (U514201 Ph.D.).
Angelelli, Claudia 2000: Interpreting pedagogy: A bridge long overdue. ATA Chronicle (November/December), 40-47.
Angelelli, Claudia 2004: Revisiting the interpreter’s role: a study of conference, court, and medical interpreters in Canada, Mexico, and the United States. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
Angelelli, Claudia 2008: Medical interpreting and cross-cultural communication. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Arjona, Etilvia 1978: Intercultural Communication and the Training of Interpreters at the Monterey Institute of Foreign Studies. In Gerver, David/Sinaiko, H. Wallace (eds.), Language Interpretation and Communication. New York/ London: Plenum Press, 35-44.
Bahadır, Sebnem 2004: Moving in-between: the interpreter as ethnographer and the interpreting-researcher as anthropologist. In Meta 49(4), 805-821.
Baigorri-Jalón, Jesús 2015: The History of the Interpreting Profession. In Mikkelson, Holly/Jourdenais, René (eds.), The Routledge Handbook of Interpreting London/ New York: Routledge Taylor & Francis Group, 11-28.
Beaton, Morven 2010: Negotiating identities in the European Parliament: the role of simultaneous interpreting. In Baker, Mona/Pérez Calzada, María/Olohan, Maeve (eds.), Text and context. Essays of translation and interpreting in honor of Ian Mason. Manchester: St. Jerome, 117-138.
Berk-Seligson, Susan 2002: The bilingual courtroom: court interpreters in the judicial process (with a new chapter). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Bochner, Stephen 1981: The mediating person: bridge between cultures. Boston: G.K. Hall.
Boéri, Julie 2015: Key internal players in the development of the interpreting profession. In Mikkelson, Holly/Jourdenais, René (eds.), The Routledge Handbook of Interpreting. London/New York: Routledge, 29-44.
Bourne, Jenifer S. 2015: Overcoming intercultural challenges in interpreting: A case study on Chinese-English conference interpreting. (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). University of Maryland, College Park, Ann Arbor.
Bourne, Jenifer S. 2016: Exploring intercultural communication challenges: a case study on Chinese-English interpreting. In China Media Research 12(1), 14-24.
Bowen, David 1985: The Intercultural Component in Interpreter and Translator Training: A Historical Survey (doctoral dissertation). Georgetown University, Washington DC.
Bowen, David 2012: Interpreters and the making of history. In Delisle, Jean/Woodsworth, Judith (eds.), Translators through history. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 247-284.
Bowen, David/Bowen, Margareta 2008: Interpreting yesterday, today, and tomorrow. American Translators Association scholarly monograph series. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.
Brislin, Richard W. 1978: Contributions of Cross-Cultural Orientation Programs and Power. Analysis to Translation/ Interpretation. In Gerver, David/Sinaiko, H. Wallace (eds.), Language Interpretation and Communication. New York/ London: Plenum Press, 205-216.
Clifford, James/Marcus, George E. (1986/2010): Writing culture: the poetics and politics of ethnography. Berkeley, California: University of California Press.
Cronin, Michael 2002: The Empire talks back: orality, heteronomy and the cultural turn in interpreting studies. In Pöchhacker, Franz/Shlesinger, Miriam (eds.), The Interpreting Studies Reader. London/New York: Routledge, 387-397.
Cronin, Michael 2003: Translation and globalization. New York: Routledge.
Dam, Helle V. 2017: The Changing Role of the Interpreter: Contextualising norms, ethics and quality standards. In Biagnini, Marta/Boyd, Michael/Monacelli, Claudia (eds.), Interpreter role, ethics and norms: linking to professionalization, London/New York: Routledge, 122-239.
Dam, Helle V./Zethsen, Karen K. 2013: Conference interpreters-the stars of the translation profession?: A study of the occupational status of Danish EU interpreters as compared to Danish EU translators. In Interpreting: International Journal of Research & Practice in Interpreting 15(2), 229-259.
Davidson, Brad 2000: The interpreter as institutional gatekeeper: The social linguistic role of interpreters in Spanish English medical discourse. In Journal of Sociolinguistics 4(3), 379-405.
Davidson, Brad 2001: Questions in Cross-Linguistic Medical Encounters: The Role of the Hospital Interpreter. In Anthropological Quarterly 74(4), 170-178.
Delisle, Jean 1999: Introduction. In Roland, Ruth, Interpreters as Diplomats: A Diplomatic History of the Role of Interpreters in World Politics. Ottawa: University of Ottawa Press, 1-6.
Delisle, Jean/Woodsworth, Judith 2012: Translators through History: Revised edition. Philadelphia/Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company.
Diriker, Ebru 2004: De-/re-contextualizing conference interpreting: interpreters in the ivory tower? Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
Diriker, Ebru 2009: Meta-discourse as a source for exploring the professional image(s) of conference interpreters. In Hermes – Journal of Language and Communication Studies 42, 71-91.
Diriker, Ebru 2015: Conference interpreting. In Pöchhacker, Franz/Grbić, Nadja/Mead, Peter/ Setton, Robin (eds.), Routledge Encyclopedia of Interpreting Studies. Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, 78-82.
EMCI 2015: EMCI Core Curriculum [online]. (accessed 22 November 2017).
Eraslan, Seyda 2008: Cultural Mediator or Scrupulous Translator? Revisiting Role, Context and Culture in Consecutive Conference Interpreting. In Boulogne, Pieter (ed.), Translation and Its Others. Selected Papers of the CETRA Research Seminar in Translation Studies 2007. Leuven: KULeuven, 1-33.
Eraslan, Seyda 2011: International Knowledge Transfer in Turkey: the Consecutive Interpreter’s Role in Context. (Doctoral dissertation), Rovira i Virgili University, Tarragona.
Fernández Ocampo, Anxo/Wolf, Michaela 2014: Framing the interpreter: towards a visual perspective. London: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.
Gambier, Yves/van Doorslaer, Luc (eds.) 2013: The Handbook of Translation Studies. Amsterdam/ Philadelphia: John Benjamins.
Garzone, Giuliana/Viezzi, Maurizio 2002: Interpreting in the 21st century: challenges and opportunities. Selected papers from the 1st Forlì Conference on Interpreting Studies. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
Geertz, Clifford 1973: The interpretation of cultures: selected essays. New York: Basic Books.
Gentile, Paola 2013: The Status of Conference Interpreters: A Global Survey into the Profession. In Rivista Internazionale di Tecnica della Traduzione 15, 63-83.
Gentile, Paola 2017: Interpreting as a postmodern profession. A socio-historical approach. In Biagnini, Marta/Boyd, Michael/Monacelli, Claudia (eds.), Interpreter role, ethics and norms: linking to professionalization. London/New York: Routledge, 32-51.
Gile, Daniel 2001: The History of Research into Conference Interpreting: A Scientometric Approach. In Target 12(2), 297-321.
Goddard, Cliff 2005: The lexical semantics of culture. In Language Sciences 27(1), 51-73.
Goddard, Cliff 2006: Ethnopragmatics: understanding discourse in cultural context Applications of cognitive linguistics. Berlin/New York: Mouton de Gruyter.
Göhring, Heinz 1977: Interkulturelle Kommunikation: Die Überwindung der Trennung von Fremdsprachen- und Landeskundeunterricht durch einen integrierten Fremdsverhaltensunterricht”, in Kongressberichte der 8. Jahrestagung der Gesellschaft für Angewandte Linguistik GAL e. V. Vol.IV, Mainz, 9-13.
Grbić, Nadja 2010: “Boundary work” as a concept for studying professionalization processes in the interpreting field. In Translation & Interpreting Studies: The Journal of the American Translation & Interpreting Studies Association 5(1), 109-123.
Hall, Edward T. 1976/1989: Beyond culture (2. printing ed.). New York: Anchor Books.
Hall, Stuart 2008: Cosmopolitanism, Globalization and Diaspora. In Werbner, Pina (ed.), Anthropology and the New Cosmopolitanism: Rooted, Feminist and Vernacular Perspective. Oxford: Berg, 345–361.
Hatim, Basil/ Mason, Ian 1997: The translator as communicator. London: Routledge.
Herbert, Jean 1952: The Interpreter’s Handbook: How to Become a Conference Interpreter. Genève: Georg.
Hofstede, Geert 1984: National cultures revisited. In Asia Pacific Journal of Management 2(1), 22-28.
Holliday, Adrian 1999: Small Cultures. In Applied Linguistics 20(2), 237-264.
Holliday, Adrian 2011: Intercultural Communication & Ideology. Los Angeles: SAGE Publications.
Inghilleri, Moira 2005: The Sociology of Bourdieu and the Construction of the ‘Object’ in Translation and Interpreting Studies. In The Translator 11(2), 125-145.
Jenks, Chris 1993/2005: Culture. London/New York: Routledge.
Jones, Roderick 1998: Conference interpreting explained. Manchester: St. Jerome.
Katan, David 2004: Translating cultures: an introduction for translators, interpreters and mediators. Manchester: St. Jerome Publishing.
Katan, David 2008: Translation as Intercultural Communication. In Munday, Jeremy (ed.), The Routledge companion to translation studies. London: Routledge, 74-92.
Katan, David 2013: Intercultural Mediation. In Gambier, Yves/van Doorslaer, Luc (eds.), The Handbook of Translation Studies. Amsterdam/ Philadelphia: John Benjamins, 84-91.
Kelly, Dorothy 2005: A handbook for translator trainers: a guide to reflective practice. London/ New York: Routledge.
Kondo, Masaomi 1990: What conference interpreters should not be expected to do. In The Interpreter’s Newsletter 3, 59-65.
Kondo, Masaomi/Tebble, Hellen/Bistra, Alexieva/Dam V., Helle/Katan, David/Mizuno, Akira/Setton, Robin/Zalka, Ilona 1997: Intercultural Communication, Negotiation and Interpreting. In Gambier, Yves/Gile, Daniel/Taylor, Christopher (eds.), Conference interpreting: current trends in research: proceedings of the International Conference on Interpreting-What Do We Know and How?, Turku, August 25-27, 1994, Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 149-166.
Kramsch, Claire 1998: Language and Culture. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Kumaravadivelu, B. 2008: Cultural globalization and language education. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Leal-Lobato, Ana I. 2017: Conference Interpreters: how to serve the cause of minorized communities in the new postmonolingual/ ‘postmonodiscoursive’ order. In Monzó-Nebot, Esther/Jiménez-Salcedo, Joan (eds.), Minoritized languages under a postmonolingual order. Castelló, Spain: Universitat Jaume I, 151-166.
Leal-Lobato, Ana I. (in progress): Conference interpreters as critical intercultural mediators. (Ongoing doctoral dissertation). Aarhus University, Aarhus.
Levy-Berlowitz, Ruth 2008: Interpreting in multicultural settings. In Bowen, David/Bowen, Margareta (eds.), Interpreting-yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Amsterdam, The Netherlands: John Benjamins, 117-121.
Liu, Minhua 2005: Kouyi yanjiu xin tan: Xin fangfa, xin guannian, xin qushi [Recent research into interpreting: New methods, concepts and trends]. In Interpreting: international journal of research and practice in interpreting 7(1), 146-155.
Marrone, Stefano 1993: Quality: A Shared Objective. In The Interpreters’ Newsletter 5, 35-39.
Mason, Ian 2001: Triadic exchanges: studies in dialogue interpreting. Manchester, UK: St. Jerome.
Mesa, Anne-Marie 2000: The cultural interpreter: an appreciated professional. In Roberts, Roda P/Carr, Silvana E./ Abraham, Diana (eds.), Critical Link 2. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company, 67-79.
Metzger, Melanie 2000: Sign language interpreting: deconstructing the myth of neutrality. Washington: Gallaudet University Press.
Mikkelson, Holly 2009: Interpreting is interpreting- or is it?. AIIC website [online]. website/ (accessed 22 November 2017).
Monacelli, Claudia 2009: Self-preservation in simultaneous interpreting: surviving the role. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
Morell Rodríguez, Jorge L. 2011: Toward the Development of a Metacognitive Intercultural Communicative Competence in the Education of Students of Interpreting: General Theoretical/ Pragmatic Foundations. In Translation & Interpreting 3(1), 106-118.
Pöchhacker, Franz 1995: Writings and Research on Interpreting: A bibliographic Analysis. In The Interpreter’s Newsletter 6, 17-31.
Pöchhacker, Franz 2001: Quality Assessment in Conference and Community Interpreting. In Meta 46(2), 410-425.
Pöchhacker, Franz 2016: Introducing Interpreting Studies. London: Routledge.
Pöchhacker, Franz/Grbić, Nadja/Mead, Peter/Setton, Robin (eds.) 2015: Routledge Encyclopedia of Interpreting Studies. Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.
Pym, Anthony/Shlesinger, Miriam/ Jettmarova, Zuzana (eds.) 2006: Sociocultural aspects of translating and interpreting. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
Risager, Karen 2007: Language and culture pedagogy: from a national to a transnational paradigm. Clevedon/Buffalo/Toronto: Multilingual Matters.
Rogers, Everett M./Hart, William B./Yoshitaka, Miike 2002: Edward T. Hall and the History of Intercultural Communication: The United States and Japan. In Keio Communication Review 24, 3–26.
Roland, Ruth 1999: Interpreters as Diplomats: A Diplomatic History of the Role of Interpreters in World Politics. Ottawa: University of Ottawa Press.
Roy, Cecilia 1993/2002. The problem with definitions, descriptions, and the role metaphors of interpreters. In Pöchhacker, Franz/Shlesinger, Miriam (eds.), The Interpreting Studies Reader. London/ New York: Routledge Taylor & Francis Group, 344-353.
Roy, Cecilia 1999: Interpreting as a Discourse Process. Cary, United States: Oxford University Press.
Rudvin, Mette 2006: The cultural turn in Community Interpreting. A brief analysis of epistemological developments in Community Interpreting literature in the light of paradigm changes in the humanities. In Linguisstica Antverpiensia. New series- Themes in Translation Studies, 5 21-41.
Sawyer, David B. 2004: Fundamental aspects of interpreter education. Curriculum and assessment. Amsterdam/ Philadelphia: John Benjamins.
Scaglioni, Giulia 2013: Simultaneous Interpreting from German into Italian: The Importance of Preparation on a Selection of Cultural Items. In The Interpreter’s Newsletter 18, 81-103.
Seeber, Kilian/Zegler, Christian 2007: ‘Betrayal- Vice or Virtue? An Ethical Perspective on Accuracy in Simultaneous Interpreting’. In Meta 52(2), 290-298.
Seleskovitch, Danica/Lederer, Marianne 1989: Pédagogie raisonnée de l’interprétation. Paris: Didier/Luxembourg: Office des publications officielles des Communautés européennes.
Setton, Robin/Dawrant, Andrew 2016: Conference Interpreting: A Trainer’s Guide. Amsterdam/ Philadelphia: John Benjamins.
Sewell, William H. 1999: The Concept(s) of Culture. In Bonnell, Victoria E./Hunt, Lynn. A. (eds.), Beyond the cultural turn: new directions in the study of society and culture, Berkeley: University of California Press, 35-51.
Snell-Hornby, Mary 1995: Translation studies: an integrated approach. Amsterdam: John Benjamin.
Sorrells, Kathryn 2013: Intercultural communication: globalization and social justice. Thousand Oaks: SAGE.
Straniero, Francesco S. 1998: Notes on cultural mediation. In The Interpreters’ Newsletter 8, 151-168.
Taft, Ronald 1981: The role and personality of the mediator In Bochner Stephen (ed.), The mediating person: bridges between cultures. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Schenkman Publishing Company, 53-88.
Takeda, Kakyoko/Baigorri-Jalón, Jesús 2016: New insights in the history of interpreting. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
Tomozeiu, Daniel/Kumpulainen, Minna 2016: Operationalising intercultural competence for translation pedagogy. In The Interpreter and Translator Trainer 10(3), 268-284.
Torikai, Kumiko 2009: Voices of the invisible presence: diplomatic interpreters in post-World War II Japan. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
Torikai, Kumiko 2010: Conference interpreters and their perception of culture: From the narratives of Japanese pioneers. In Translation & Interpreting Studies: The Journal of the American Translation & Interpreting Studies Association 5(1), 75-93.
Triandis, Harry C. 2001: Individualism Collectivism and Personality. In Journal of Personality 69(6), 907-924.
Valdeón, Roberto A. 2013: Doña Marina/La Malinche: A historiographical approach to the interpreter/traitor. In Target 25(2), 157-179.
Viezzi, Maurizio 2013: Simultaneous and consecutive interpreting (non-conference settings). In Millán, Carmen/ Bartrina, Francesca (eds.), The Routledge handbook of translation studies. Milton Park, Abingdon: Routledge, 377-388.
Wadensjö, Cecilia 1998: Interpreting as interaction. London: Longman.
Wierzbicka, Anna 2005: In Defense of ‘Culture’. In Theory & Psychology 15(4), 575-597.
Wolf, Michaela/Fukari, Alexandra 2007: Constructing a sociology of translation. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
Zwischenberger, Cornelia 2017: Professional self-perception of the social role of conference interpreters. In Biagnini, Marta/Boyd, Michael/Monacelli, Claudia (eds.), The changing role of the interpreter. Contextualizing norms, ethics and quality standards. New York/ London: Routledge, 52-73.
How to Cite
Leal-Lobato, A. (2019). The (Inter)cultural Missing Link in Conference Interpreting. HERMES - Journal of Language and Communication in Business, 59(1), 91-108.